Today is the first in a series of posts regarding NSSI and the family. For the next few weeks, I will be focussing on a very informative article by Alexis E. Arbuthnott and Stephen P. Lewis about how parents are impacted by their child's NSSI behaviours.* This article has been very helpful to me in my current research as I am currently working on a paper concerning the positive impact that family therapy can have for families that have a self-injuring child.
Here are some key ideas from the article concerning the feelings and experiences of parents who are supporting a youth who self-injures:
1) Parents report many negative emotions, such as shame, sadness, anger, frustration and self-blame when they find out their child has been injuring themselves.
2) Parents often feel very alone and helpless, unable to locate resources and services relating to NSSI
3) Parents feel they cannot talk to anyone about the NSSI and often speak only to friends and may not disclose to any other family members
4) Parents desire more peer support and also support from other parents whose child is self-injuring so that they can learn from one another, and feel relief knowing that they are not isolated and alone
5) Parents find it hard to understand why their child has chosen to self-injure, and have many misconceptions about NSSI. The authors stress that it is a priority that accurate information become available for parents
6) Many parents feel they have lost their parenting confidence and desire more effective parenting skills
7) Parents also become worried they may contribute to an episode of self-injury by "triggering" their child
8) Finally, parents report that there is an impact on family dynamics as the self-injuring youth may be seen to hold more power than others in the family. Sometimes this can also lead to disruptions in employment as parents need to reduce hours or leave work in order to care for their child. This may also connect to parents denying their own needs and self-care for the sake of their child.
The authors explain that despite the challenges NSSI may cause in their lives and in the lives of other family members, many parents report that they hope "hope to regain a positive relationship with the youth, recognize the importance of parent-child communication in the youth's wellbeing, and want to help the youth develop emotion regulation and coping strategies" (16).
Stay tuned for more posts connected to this article on the impact that NSSI has on the family system.
*See: Arbuthnott, Alexis E., and Stephen P. Lewis. “Parents of Youth Who Self-Injure: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Mental Health Professionals.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 9 (2015): 35.